AUSTIN, Texas — BYU will be facing a Texas team that has undergone quite a few changes from a year ago. The Longhorns will be fielding a team that relies heavily on new players, a lot of them true freshmen, with a new offensive system.
Such wholesale changes aren’t typical for such a successful and long-tenured coach as Mack Brown. When your team goes an un-Texas-like 5-7 a year ago, however, you make those changes.
BYU, meanwhile, returns most of its team intact from a year ago and, like Texas, they have a new offensive coordinator. Some of the precepts with BYU’s offense remain although coach Brandon Doman has them trending toward a more pro-style system.
Despite all the new players seeing game time while coming off of a losing season, they’re still Texas, according to BYU players.
“You look at film, and they’re as fast and as athletic as any team I’ve seen,” observed quarterback Jake Heaps. “I mean, they’re Texas. They get great athletes there and this year is no different. They’ll be a huge test for us.”
So how does BYU compare with the Big12 powerhouse? Which matchups look to be favorable for the Cougars and which matchups look to serve them a bit of trouble?
BYU rushing attack vs. Texas
With sophomore running back Joshua Quezada ailing from a migraine, it was senior JJ Di Luigi taking charge with 56 yards rushing against Ole Miss. Overall, the Cougar ground game was average against the Rebel front, accounting for 105 total yards with a 4.2 per carry average from its running backs.
Texas allowed 127 yards on a 5.52 yard-per-carry average to the Rice running backs last week. They operate out of a 4-3 base defensive system which features a lot of speed and overall athleticism.
The defensive front will feature Kheeston Randall, 6-foot-5, 305-pound senior who is on both the Outland and Lombardi trophy watch lists. Randall is very experienced having played in 35 total games, including all 12 games a season ago where he tallied 39 tackles and 13 tackles-for-loss.
“They have a real powerful D-line,” said BYU running back Bryan Kariya. “I think they have five starters from a year ago with their front guys. It’s a little hard to tell exactly what they have from one game, and that’s sort of the challenge. I do know that they have a lot of experience and talent on the defensive line though.”
Randall will be joined by sophomore Calvin Howell, 6-foot-4, 290, who started his first game last week against Rice. On the ends, they’ll feature two players with starting experience from a year ago in junior Alex Okafor, 6-foot-4, 260, and sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat, 6-foot-5, 250.
At linebacker, the Longhorns have most of their returning experience with two seniors with a collective 41 games started. The group will be headed by Keenan Robinson, 6-foot-3, 240, who led the team in tackles from his middle linebacker spot with 130 last season.
Senior Emmanuel Acho, 6-foot-2, 245, was second in the team in tackles from a year ago, with 87 from his weak side linebacker spot. He’ll join with first-year starter Jordan Hicks, 6-foot-2, 235, who will start at strong side LB.
“They’ll be a challenge,” said Kariya. “They have a lot of experience at linebacker and they’re fast and athletic, just like the rest of their team.”
It was only one game, but Texas looked as if they could be had on the ground against Rice. With BYU’s experienced offensive front, they should be able to account for over 100 yards rushing and improve upon their 105 yards gained from a week ago.
How effective BYU is in running the football with consistency will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. It's easy to like BYU here, considering their experience and lack of productivity from Texas last week.
BYU passing attack vs. Texas
It was a very underwhelming performance through the air for the Cougars a week ago. Although the passing game saw improvement during the second half, 225 yards total was a bit disappointing when considering all the returning experience at quarterback and receiver.
As mentioned, the passing game ended on a high note with Heaps completing 13-16 passes for the second half. For the most part, however, the offense was unable to stretch the field effectively and had to rely on underneath passing.
They were able to move the ball consistently through the air, though.
“You look at last game and although we didn’t have those big plays, we put together some good drives,” said Heaps. “We need to continue that and just move the ball like we did. We just need to finish off those drives and maybe get some more opportunities downfield.”
Texas wasn’t tested all that much against Rice last week and yielded just 94 yards through the air. It’s a secondary that is inexperienced at corner, but very experienced at both safety positions.
The headliner of the group is strong safety Blake Gideon, 6-foot-1, 205 senior, who has seen playing time in every year that he’s played with 40 career starts. He’ll join with junior free safety Kenny Vaccaro, 6-foot-1, 215 who started throughout last season.
At corner, they’ll rotate three young but talented players in sophomores Adrian Phillips, 5-foot-11, 199, Carrington Byndom, 6-foot-0, 180, and true freshman Quandre Diggs, 5-foot-10, 200.
“They play a lot of cover one man,” said Heaps. “They play some different versions of cover 3, cover 2 and cover 6, so they do some good things and they have some good athletes.”
Texas also likes to blitz, as noted by Kariya.
“Seems like they blitzed really well against Rice,” he said. “I know that they’ll look at what we did against Ole Miss and try to bring the heat, and we have to be ready for that. They like to man up, so it will be about picking up the blitz during key situations and just beating our man a lot of the time.”
Although the 94 yards given up last week is an impressive number, Texas didn’t do it against the most impressive of passing attacks. The BYU passing attack didn’t look like they did throughout fall camp, with Heaps looking flustered and hurried too much of the time.
Look for Heaps to stand in the pocket much better this week while getting off to a faster start than he did against Ole Miss. With the first game in a hostile environment under his belt, Heaps should prove to be much more composed coming out.
The key will be with the wideout’s ability in beating the predominant man coverage Texas will present. All the Cougar wideouts struggled in getting open last week, although Ross Apo did have some good moments.
Cougar rush defense vs. Texas
It was very hard to find any fault with how the Cougars defended the run last week. Ole Miss came in with their offensive strength being their running attack and only mustered 70 yards rushing by their running backs.
“They won’t be able to run on our defensive front, we know that,” said cornerback Preston Hadley. “Those guys upfront will get the job done, so it’s up to us to make sure we don’t give up much.”
The strength of the Cougar defense looks to be at outside linebacker, where Kyle Van Noy and Jordan Pendleton made play after play last week. It was in large part due to the effective six-man defensive-line rotation that allowed the Cougar backers to run free.
Texas was very good on the ground last week against Rice. With freshman Malcolm Brown, 6-foot-0, 217, leading the way, they rushed for 229 yards on a 4.8 yards per carry average.
“They have a very good running back and they’re confident after doing well last week,” said defensive lineman Hebron Fangupo. “We did well last week, but we definitely have to bring it again this week because they’ll be coming.”
The Longhorn offensive front is relatively inexperienced with just two returning starters from a year ago and a red shirt freshman center.
“They’re not as big as the Ole Miss offensive line, but they’re more athletic and they move better,” said Fangupo. “They were blowing guys off the line last week and we have to be on our game for sure to make sure they don’t do the same to us.”
This should be the marquee matchup of Saturday’s game. It will also be the matchup that largely dictates which team comes out on top.
Both units will come off extremely confident after dominating performances in their respective ground attack and ground defense. Look for BYU to yield a bit more yardage to Texas than they did against Ole Miss, but not much as this looks to be a very stout front seven.
Cougar pass defense vs. Texas
The good news was that the Cougars gave up just 144 yards through the air last week. The bad news is that they did it against a meager passing attack that included a new quarterback and inexperienced receivers.
“Texas has a much better quarterback from what we’ve seen and will definitely present more of a challenge than Ole Miss did,” observed Hadley. “They have a lot of weapons and they’re very fast and athletic, so we’re going to have to be better than we were last week.”
Texas will feature a new offense that the team anticipates will be almost exactly like Boise State’s where their current offensive coordinator learned his craft. Just like Boise does, Texas will line up in a variety of formations and throw some trick plays the Cougar’s way.
“There’s about every type of formation that anyone can line up in is what we‘ll see,” said head coach Bronco Mendenhall. “If you watch Boise State film — it’s not identical — but it’s basically what we’ll see and what we’re preparing for.”
Texas will start junior Garret Gilbert, 6-foot-4, 219, with sophomore Mike Davis, 6-foot-2, 188, as his most experienced target. Other targets will include true freshman Jaxon Shipley, 6-foot-1, 194, and red shirt freshman John Harris, 6-foot-3, 211, who debuted against Rice last week.
“This week will be a good test for all of us,” said Hadley. “We know that they’re young, but they have speed though. They can run, but I also believe that we have guys that can run. We have to respect the vertical pass, but we also have to play physical and aggressive.”
The Cougars showed some cracks in their coverage last week and will do well in not showing the same gaffes against a much tougher passing attack. They’ll be tested often and from a variety of formations and truly be tested throughout the game.
Gilbert is a much better and capable quarterback than either Ole Miss quarterback a week ago. He has some good experience and looks much improved with a fresh offensive system going off what he was able to do a week ago.
The emphasis will again be on stuffing the run, which should allow for some downfield opportunities. The Cougar secondary looked vulnerable against the deep pass at times last week and Texas looks to have the type of arsenal that can exploit that much better than the Rebels did.
Prediction: Texas 24, BYU 17
Texas will provide a lot more for BYU to handle on both sides of the football. They’re a young team, but they have very capable athletes playing in a home environment that should give them a good advantage.
BYU has the tools to hang around and make this a close game, but look for Texas’ overall speed and athleticism on both sides of the football to be the difference.
The key for the Cougars will be in defending well against trick play and the big play opportunities Texas will look to have. If they can do that effectively, the outcome could come out in their favor in what looks to be a very competitive matchup.